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Julia Toenjes: The Journey to Find Her Passion

| Eve Quick

Julia Toenjes was drawn to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire for numerous reasons. She wanted to be part of a smaller school to find a close-knit community, and when she toured the university, she remembers thinking “This is the most beautiful campus I’ve ever seen, and everyone was so nice.” The Honors LLC became a major factor in Julia's choosing to come to UWEC. She knew she would feel the most comfortable living with like-minded people when it comes to academics. She was also drawn to UWEC because of the undergraduate research opportunities. Julia knew it “could be beneficial for me personally, but also for my future career down the road.”

Julia is a biology major with an emphasis on microbiology. She didn’t always know this was going to be where her education would take her. Julia thought she would be a teacher or some sort of education major. After taking all the biology classes she could throughout high school into college, she realized that microbiology is her passion, but so is teaching. Instead of choosing between one or the other, Julia realized she could educate people through her research and work in microbiology. She explains, “I’m not giving up my passion for teaching, I’m doing something that I love that can still help educate people.” Microbiology helped her discover there are more ways to teach than by being a teacher.

She chose to study microbiology because she “loves the small stuff. I love the cells, and I love the bacteria. COVID made it even more obvious to me that we need people who can research and understand these tiny things.”

Julia had the opportunity to have a paid summer undergraduate research position with the Biology Department. She worked with Dr. Bradley Carter in his neuroscience research lab, where they worked with zebrafish to study the effects of excess cortisone on their development. This research project lasted from the Summer of 2022 to the Spring of 2023. Julia thinks that Dr. Carter “created such a wonderful lab environment that sparked my research interest more than it had before.” She had the incredible opportunity to present this research at both the National Conference of Undergraduate Research (NCUR) and the MidBrains Conference, which is a neuroscience conference held in the Midwest.

Julia Toenjes Research Poster
Julia Toenjes Research Poster

Julia is most proud of presenting her research at NCUR. She had only been researching for less than 1 year and felt this national research conference was a huge milestone. It was a substantial project and she felt it was her “biggest culminating moment.” She explained that she owes her thanks to Honors for giving her the confidence and knowledge to talk to people about things she is passionate about.

Julia was the Biology Club President and was an Honors 100 mentor for a group of honors students who received a leadership scholarship. Being an Honors 100 mentor for these freshmen was rewarding for Julia because of how nervous they were at first and how much the students were thriving by the end. These freshmen inspired her from “diverse backgrounds who wanted to make a difference in the world.”

Another aspect of involvement Julia has been a part of at UWEC is in Supplemental Instruction on campus. This is through the Academic Skills Center where student leaders provide help to other students for historically difficult classes. Helping other students through Supplemental Instruction has brought Julia “a lot of fulfillment just helping students do their best in those classes.” She loves meeting younger students who have just started their major and enjoys helping these “students work with the materials and learn how to utilize active learning strategies.”

Another exciting opportunity UWEC has given to Julia is the chance to go abroad. Julia went to Florence, Italy to finish earning the remainder of her LE credits to graduate. She had so much fun exploring the city and meeting people. Whatever reason a student may have for not going abroad, Julia says, “Once you're there it’s a thousand times worth it.”

Her Time in Honors
The Honors Program has made Julia’s college education experience unique. She found that being in Honors allowed her the opportunity to take exclusive LE courses. Some of her favorites include her class on the hit TV show “Schitts Creek,” the course where she learned more about the queer perspective, and her course on the infamous “Harry Potter” series.

All of Julia’s Honors classes have taught her to look at problems or opinions from different perspectives. She says Honors has “taught me how to analyze things differently than I ever thought to analyze them before” and that doing so “expands your perspective on topics by being able to have intellectual conversations with students from all different majors.” Julia found that the conversations had in her Honors classes have been important to her education by learning from students outside of her major who see the world differently.

Ready for the “Real World”
The different perspectives highlighted in Honors have prepared Julia for “what the real world is like in workplace environments and different situations. There will be some people I may disagree with, but I will feel more prepared to handle those situations and to have constructive conversations because of Honors. I feel that in turn, it will help me be a better employee and more productive person in whatever I do.”

Julia is uncertain as to what she will be doing or where she’ll live after graduation. However, she knows she wants to enter the workforce immediately, whether in a hospital or research lab. She is optimistic about her future because of the many doors her degree can open for her and doesn’t want to commit herself to one path, she explains, “I want to be open-minded. I want to find what I’m super passionate about.”

Julia knows she can always go back to school and be a teacher later in life, or even continue to educate people with her research. She’s ready for her postgraduate journey and can’t wait to figure out what fulfills her.